Listening Pleasures: The Great Gildersleeve

Around 10 years ago, after a friend’s suggestion, I stumbled across the Old-Time Radio network Antioch Broadcasting Network (ABN). Prior to that time I had never really listened to radio for anything other than music or talk radio. I’ve always liked classic television, so it was to be expected that I immediately followed the various crime or detective stories broadcast on ABN.

With radio programs, outside of a very limited amount of sound effects, the voice acting is the integral part to whether the story reaches its intended target. With these shows taking place primarily before the invention of television, the best actors were still in radio and it showed. In those days the advertiser actually had control of the programming as opposed to the show or network calling the shots. Companies such as Kraft Foods (sponsor of The Great Gildersleeve) had their own stable of actors and programming that was under company control.  The concept that the company being promoted during commercial breaks is actually the driving force behind the radio program itself is almost absurd to think about in comparison to today’s television programming.
After my initial interest in crime dramas I started to listen to several situational comedies. At first I was a reluctant listener but then the characters started to grow on me, somewhat unexpectedly. The show that stands out the most to me in the group of early radio sitcoms is The Great Gildersleeve.

The show started as a spin-off (it’s actually one of the first broadcast spin-offs of all time) of one of my least favorite shows: Fibber McGee and Molly. The main character, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, was played by Harold Peary. The character started as a neighbor of Fibber McGee and became so popular with listeners that Kraft Foods (the show’s sponsor) decided to give Peary his own show.

The premiere episode was August 31st, 1941 and I’ll be honest, the initial story line is not the greatest. Gildersleeve is single businessman (owner/operator of Gildersleeve Girdles) who has to leave his business and move to a town called Summerfield to take care of his recently deceased brother-in-law’s children. This part of the plot is very vague and is never really touched on again. It is just accepted that there is an odd living arrangement where Gildersleeve is the new guy in town, taking care of his adolescent niece and nephew.

Most of the initial storylines revolved around the kids, Leroy and Marjorie, getting to know their uncle. The household also had a housekeeper named Birdie. Marjorie is a teenager when Gildersleeve arrives and several early episodes centered on the latest love interest or teenage girl issue. Throughout almost the entirety of the show, Leroy remained 10 years old. The voice actor that played Leroy was actually an adult from the very beginning. He specialized in a teenage boy character’s voice and apparently did quite well at it. Because of the consistent age, most Leroy stories were similar to a Tom Sawyer-esque approach. Leroy and a revolving cast of friends were always up to something mischievous.

There was no doubt however that the focus of the show was Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. Harold Peary, the actor that played Gildersleeve, was a very good singer and his singing ability was often a part of the theme of the episode. The character was also overweight for the 1940’s, so there were always comments about his weight from his arch nemesis Judge Hooker. Gildersleeve had a very distinct laugh that would be impossible for me to describe. The laugh was so unique that it became the calling card of the show. With Gildersleeve being a bachelor his love life was a constant work in progress. In a very fluid love interest character role, Leila Ransom was the most reoccurring character.

Since the show was in its prime during the start of WWII, it was inevitable that the war shaped a large portion of the show. I still remember the night I was listening to an episode when there was an interruption in the broadcast and a news anchor announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I listened to that episode multiple times that night just imagining what a listener in 1940s America would have thought tuning in expecting to hear Gildersleeve chasing a girl, never realizing that their entire world was about to change. The following episodes of the show contained plugs for war bond drives, rationing, soldiers returning from overseas and many other war time themes. These episodes were a peek into a time long forgotten by many, even though it was a simple family comedy that I don’t think ever intended to be anything more than just that.

OTRR LIBRARY – THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE

The show continued into the 1950s and by this time Harold Peary has been replaced by Willard Waterman because of a contract dispute. I have listened through all 552 episodes of the show, all the way through 1954. In my opinion the show ended with Harold Peary in 1950. No offense to Willard Waterman but he was simply a person doing a bad impression of Harold Peary playing the Great

Gildersleeve. While many of the main characters like Judge Hooker, Peavy, Marjorie and Leroy continued in the series, the show was never the same and I believe the ratings are evidence of that. The series also had a short lived run as a television series and also several feature length movies.

I’ll admit that I started this series with a very strong dislike of its storyline and the main character but for some reason it just grew on me. I found it to be a good stress relief in the hustle and bustle of today. The characters are genuine and the wartime setting made the show very memorable for me. I suggested it to my wife and she reluctantly fell into the trap, all the way up to the Willard Waterman years (Willard Waterman!!!). Seriously though, if you are looking for some easy listening give this series a try…

On Politics, Journalism, and Zombies

[SPOILERS for the first three books in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy and first four chapters of the fourth book, Feedback, can be found in this post. I’ll warn you before we get there, but if you want to stop now, I don’t blame you.]

I have a love/hate relationship with politics. On the one hand, I love theoretical politics. Various political and economic theories fascinate me, and I’ll happily discuss any current issue until whomever I’m speaking with agrees with me just to get me to shut up (filibustering is my favorite method of “winning” an argument). On the other hand, applied politics is dirty and frustrating. It involves compromises, backroom deals, scheming and hypocrisy. Even the most well-meaning politicians must be somewhat two-faced to be effective, and it makes politics as a profession somewhat dirty. Still, the idea of pure, unsullied politics appeals to me.

Cover of 'Feedback' by Mira Grant

‘Feedback’ is the fourth book set in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh universe.

The flip side of that coin is journalism. Journalists, as the “fourth estate,” are a vital part of the fabric of any free society. Where the “pure” politician is always going to be a little distasteful, the pure journalist feels like something of a hero. The little guy, looking for the truth, often pitted against the most powerful and influential of people, who have a vested interest in making sure that truth isn’t revealed. Unfortunately, as in all things, reality falls a bit short here, too. Journalists are human beings, who have their own biases and flaws. The reality of our economy and people’s short attention spans mean that click-bait and alarmist thinking are always going to get the dollars; journalists, who generally like to eat, are forced to give into that. Again, though, the concept of the journalist as the plucky hero is golden.

Finally, I love zombies. Even before the glut of zombie fiction we’ve had the last few years, I’ve found them fascinating. I don’t care so much about the stories told in The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later (though, I enjoyed the first few seasons of TWD and love 28 Days Later). While I enjoy the pure action and horror of the stories, I’m more fascinated by the world building aspects of the zombie genre. What, exactly, does the presence of these eating machines do to people’s ability to survive? What impact does it have on society when a sudden heart attack can turn a mild-mannered family man into a carnivorous monster who is contagious to boot?

Put all of this together, and Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy (Feed, Blackout, and Deadline) seem tailor-made for me. A team of blogger/journalists are hired to follow a Presidential candidate on the campaign trail, in a world where the zombie apocalypse happened twenty years ago and is still very much a danger? Yes, please. While neither of the two sequels are quite as good as the first book (and I never quite got over some of the distasteful stuff in those novels, details of which I’m leaving out here for spoiler reasons), the first book is a masterpiece and the other two are excellent. Late last year, when my reading time was cut somewhat short by the presence of a new baby in the house, Mira Grant’s fourth Newsflesh novel, Feedback, was released. According to Amazon, I bought it the day it was released, but I never really got around to reading it until today.

[SPOILERS for the first three books in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy and first four chapters of the fourth book, Feedback, can be found below this line.  You have been warned.]

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The Patient Gamer, Volume 1

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

When we were discussing this group blog project, one of my co-writers suggested that we should review the Xbox Live Games With Gold games each month. Unfortunately, that same co-writer got a case of the “somebodies,” as in, “Somebody should review them, but I don’t really mean me.” For this first review, I nominated myself to be somebody. Games with Gold are, by necessity, older games, and I suggested that we should call the regular feature “Late to the Party,” but, honestly, the more I used it, the less I liked it. Thus, The Patient Gamer was born. If my co-writers don’t like it, well, they should’ve volunteered to review an old game.

The current Games with Gold are Borderlands 2 (360), Project Cars, and Layers of Fear. I would have been happy to review any of those three games (especially Borderlands 2, which I already owned and enjoyed). Unfortunately, something came up. That something was the announcement of Middle Earth: Shadow of War, the sequel to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. That announcement reminded me that I’d never actually finished Mordor, so I jumped back into it.

Mordor isn’t a new game, and, if you’re reading this, you’ve almost certainly heard of it, even if you haven’t played it. Set between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Rings, it tells the story of Talion, a human who is somehow merged with a wraith and given a form of immortality. The wraith has no real memories of who it was, so the two start out on a mission of revenge against those who killed Talion and his family, while trying to figure out exactly what happened to them.

It’s a large, open-world game set in the Lord of the Rings universe, which is one or two points in its favor right there, depending on one’s feelings about Tolkein’s Legendarium. The combat is very similar to the Arkham series of Batman games, which is a huge point in its favor. When you’re surrounded by orcs and only technically fighting one or two at a time, the combat system still makes you feel like you’re in the midst of a huge brawl. The biggest winning feature of Mordor, supposedly to be expanded on in War, is the Nemesis system.

In the nemesis system, there are orc captains (or Warchiefs, at higher levels) who lead large groups of orcs. Those captains each have their own limited personalities, with traits that modify how they fight.  More importantly, if you encounter one, he remembers you. If he killed you (one of the major points of the game is that your character returns to life after death, and the orcs know that about you), he’ll make a comment about it. If you killed him and he

Otha Ugly Face is a new Nemesis.

I think this was the first time I’d met Otha. Just after taking this picture, a second Captain showed up and distracted me, giving Otha the chance to kill me…

“escaped” (which means you got the kill animation, but the game somehow decided that he didn’t actually die when his head exploded or whatever), he not only remembers, but may bear some scars (physical and mental) from that encounter. Burn an orc to “death”, and he may return with a fear of burning.

The whole thing makes the game’s open world seem more alive than it should, and increases the replay value immensely. Let’s face it, this isn’t Skyrim. The open world in question here is all set within Mordor, the heart of Sauron’s evil empire, and it’s populated almost entirely by Orcs, human slaves, and monsters. There’s no thieves guild or Companions to join, it’s just you and your weapons, with pretty limited quest lines. If it weren’t for the Nemesis system (and, to a lesser extent, the good will earned simply by being set in a pre-existing fantasy universe), Mordor would feel like a fun proof-of-concept in want of a game. The Nemesis system completely redeems that, and makes the quest to kill all the orcs (and regain the wraith’s memories, which, honestly, felt like more of a subplot than a driving force of the game) feel entertaining a lot longer than it would otherwise be.

All in all, the plot of Mordor leaves a lot to be desired, but the Nemesis system alone makes it entirely worth playing. I’d give it a 8/10, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.